ICAC details dodgy donations
A string of former NSW Liberal figures have been named in a corruption inquiry report.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has released the Operation Spicer report after several years of investigations into claims that the party thwarted anti-developer donation laws.
Former Liberal MPs including former police minister Mike Gallacher, Chris Hartcher, Tim Owen, Andrew Cornwell, Garry Edwards, Chris Spence as well as former Newcastle Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy were found to have “acted with the intention of evading laws” under the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act.
Mr Hartcher also faces potential larceny charges and former Labor minister Joe Tripodi was found to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct by the ICAC.
The watchdog found Hunter Valley property developer Hilton Grugeon, Mr Hartcher and his former staff member Tim Koelma “acted with the intention of evading the election funding laws relating to caps on political donations”.
Former Liberal MPs Craig Baumann and Darren Webber and well-known Liberal identity Nick Di Girolamo evaded election funding laws relating to disclosure, ICAC says, while former Liberal MP Bart Bassett was found to have “knowingly solicited a political donation from a property developer”.
ICAC noted that “at the time of the relevant conduct”, the breaches of election funding laws happened amid a three year limit on bringing prosecutions for developer donations, so it could not recommend prosecutions on those matters.
“That means any prosecution for any offence arising under the Election Funding Act arising from this investigation is now statute barred,” the report said.
The ICAC does not judge guilt or innocence, and so this week’s report is legally just a statement of facts.
But the commission did recommend that the director of public prosecutions (DPP) bring charges against Mr Cornwell, his wife Samantha Brookes, Mr Koelma and others for giving false or misleading evidence, and recommends the DPP consider larceny charges against Mr Hartcher as well.
It called for charges to be considered against former state Labor minister Joe Tripodi for the common law offence of misconduct in public office.
The ICAC found Mr Tripodi “engaged in serious corrupt conduct” by providing businessman Nathan Tinkler’s Buildev property business with confidential information.
The commission found that NSW Liberal party officials had used the Free Enterprise Foundation – a group linked to the federal Liberal Party - to “channel” illegal political donations for the 2011 NSW Liberal state election campaign.
The watchdog said it did this “so that the identity of the true donors was disguised from the election funding authority”.
A key question in the inquiry related to whether senior Liberal party officials including now Senator Arthur Sinodinos – who was chair of the Liberal party finance committee at the time - knew of the dodgy use of the Free Enterprise Foundation.
Even though at one point the Liberal party received $693,000 in donations in three days from the Free Enterprise Foundation; “No one on the finance committee admitted to knowing anything about it in their evidence,” the report found.
But the matter remains part of the ongoing dispute between the NSW Liberals and the state’s election funding authority, which says it will not release $4 million in public funding until the Liberal party reveals the donors to the Free Enterprise Foundation.